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Friday, 21 December, 2001, 11:53 GMT
Guinness Four lose appeal
The Guinness logo and the company's former chief executive, Ernest Saunders
The four people convicted in 1990 of illegally boosting the price of Guinness shares ahead of a 2.6bn ($3.7bn) takeover by Distillers in 1986 have lost their most recent appeal.

"The convictions of all the appellants are safe, and their appeals are dismissed," said Lord Justice Christopher Rose.

There was and is, in any event, substantial evidence against each appellant

Lord Justice Christopher Rose
The four - former Guinness chief executive Ernest Saunders, businessman Gerald Ronson, financier Jack Lyons and stockbroker Anthony Parnes - claimed they did not get a fair trial.

In interviews conducted by the Department of Trade and Industry, the four claimed they were deprived of their right to silence, thus prejudicing the trial which later used the DTI evidence.

The hearing had also heard new evidence relating to defence allegations that the police knew of a plot to bribe a juror, but did not reveal it to either the judge or the defendants' counsel.

Safe convictions

But the Appeal Court judges disagreed, upholding the convictions of the four for theft and false accounting. Even without the DTI transcripts "there was and is, in any event, substantial evidence against each appellant," Lord Justice Rose wrote in his judgement.

The four now face hefty legal bills for their failed "11-year march to justice", as a defence counsel had described the case.

The court has adjourned a hearing on costs, but the Crown wants 235,088 against its legal expenses, while the four themselves will face a bill which may well exceed 1m.

Rigging the market

The appeal follows a European Court ruling which agreed that the four did not receive a fair trial, because of the reliance in court on the DTI interviews.

The men have been trying to clear their names ever since their convictions in 1990.

A Law Lords judgment had blocked their defence under the Human Rights Act, ruling that the Act - which did not come into force until many years after the convictions - did not apply retrospectively to appeals.

But the defendants' lawyer, Stephen Beloff QC, told the High Court the right to silence issues were just a part of the new appeal.

The ruling that the Human Rights Act did not apply retrospectively, he said, "does not kill stone dead each and every argument".

Former Guinness chief executive Ernest Saunders
Saunders: now claims dementia diagnosis was "mistaken"
Another factor which the four hoped would swing the case their way was the non-disclosure of evidence at the original trial concerning accepted "market practice" at the time of the Guinness affair.

In fact, the four claimed, they were simply doing what everyone else was doing at the time.

Suffering dementia

Mr Saunders, 62, chief executive of Guinness at the time of its takeover of Distillers, was jailed for five years in false accounting, theft and conspiracy.

The sentence was halved after an earlier appeal and he was released from open prison after serving only 10 months when doctors decided he was suffering from dementia.

Now a company consultant, he says the diagnosis of his condition was mistaken.

Gerald Ronson
Gerald Ronson was fined 5m after his 1990 conviction

Financier Mr Lyons, who escaped jail because of ill health, has suffered three heart attacks and is receiving chemotherapy following an operation for cancer.

The 84-year-old was fined 3m and stripped of his knighthood for his role in the Guinness affair.

Mr Ronson, 61, was sentenced to 12 months and fined 5m after being convicted of two counts of false accounting, one count of theft, and of conspiracy to contravene the Prevention of Fraud Act 1958.

He was released after serving six months.

Stockbroker Mr Parnes, 54, was convicted of four counts of false accounting and two counts of theft, and had his original sentence of two-and-a-half years reduced to 21 months on appeal in May 1991.

The BBC's Rebecca Pike
"They have been fighting to clear their names for ten years"
The BBC's Rebecca Pike
"The men are still seen to be guilty"
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